Vehicle registration plates of China

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Blue PRC licence plates of the 1992 standard. This is an example of a vehicle registered to a Chinese citizen or entity.
Black PRC licence plates of the 1992 standard. This is an example of a vehicle registered to a foreign national, or a Chinese person who is not a citizen of Mainland China

China, officially the People's Republic of China issues vehicles licence plates (Chinese: 牌照; pinyin: pái zhào) at its Vehicle Management Offices, under the administration of the Ministry of Public Security.

Hong Kong and Macau, both of which are Special Administrative Regions, issue their own licence plates, a legacy of when they were under British and Portuguese administration. Vehicles from Hong Kong and Macau are required to apply for licence plates, usually from Guangdong, to travel on roads in Mainland China. Vehicles from Mainland China have to apply for Hong Kong or Macau licence plates to enter those territories. Taiwan, on the other hand, also has plates administered by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MoTC) in the Republic of China.

The number of registered cars, buses, vans, and trucks on the road in China reached 62 million in 2009, and is expected to exceed 200 million by 2020.[1]

The font used on the plates were said to be modified from the East Asian gothic typeface, but speculations exist as the numbers and letters somewhat bear similarity with the German font DIN 1451.

1986-Series Plate[edit]

Layout and examples of 1986-series plates.

In July 1986, the 1986-Series Plates were put into use. The layout and format for them are listed out as follows:

Vehicle type Colouring Size (mm) Notes
Light passenger/cargo vehicles White-on-light green 300 x 165 May come with a letter replacing the first number.
Heavy goods vehicles White-on-violet
Heavy/light hand-assisted tractors,

special-use vehicles, electric cars

Black-on-yellow
Testing vehicles and training vehicles White-on-blue
Foreigner-owned vehicles White-on-black Red-on-black for limited-activity

(i.e. only allowed to drive within city limits denoted by the regional code)

Trailers Black-on-white
Plate replacement permits Red-on-white 200 x 120
Temporary plates Black-on-white
Two/three-wheeled motorcycles White-on-light green
Light motorcycles Violet-on-white

Hong Kong and Macau vehicles are issued with plates for Shenzhen (广东02) and Zhuhai (广东03), respectively. Red-on-black plate-bearing vehicles are only allowed to drive within said cities. White-on-black vehicles are permitted to drive within Guangdong province, while if the vehicles are issued with green or violet plates according to their types, they have no area limitations.

Public security vehicles (e.g. police) are issued with single-line plates with the format GARR-####, where the RR is the regional code, and the following numbers are the serial number, with the "GA"(Abbreviation for 公安, Gong An, "Public security") in red.

The regional codes are as follows:

Region Code
Beijing 11
Tianjin 12
Hebei 13
Shanxi 14
Inner Mongolia 15
Liaoning 21
Jilin 22
Heilongjiang 23
Shanghai 31
Jiangsu 32
Zhejiang 33
Anhui 34
Fujian 35
Jiangxi 36
Shandong 37
Henan 41
Hubei 42
Hunan 43
Guangdong 44
Guangxi 45
Hainan 46
Sichuan 51
Guizhou 52
Yunnan 53
Tibet 54
Shaanxi 61
Gansu 62
Qinghai 63
Ningxia 64
Xinjiang 65

Note: Chongqing was separated from Sichuan as a directly-administered city in 1997, and the 1986-series standard was abolished in 1997 as well, therefore Public security vehicles in Chongqing bear the Sichuan code of GA51, instead of the later-introduced GA50.

1986-series plates are allowed to have the first number in the serial replaced by a letter with a special meaning, such as T for "Taxi", Z for "自备车"(Zi bei che, "self-reserved vehicle"), G for "个体户“(Ge ti hu, "entrepreneur").

Current types[edit]

Common types[edit]

Schematic diagram of plates (1)
Schematic diagram of plates (2)
Schematic diagram of plates (3)
Schematic diagram of plates (4)
Schematic diagram of plates (5)
Schematic diagram of plates (6)

The current plates are of the 1992 standard, which consist of the one-character provincial abbreviation, a letter of the alphabet, and five numbers or letters of the alphabet (Ex. 沪A·12345; 京C·A1234; 苏A·1P234; 浙B·AB987; 粤Z·7C59港). Previously, all licence plates had used the five-number designation. As the number of motor vehicles grew, however, the number had to exceed what was the maximum previously allowable—90,000 or 100,000 vehicles. Therefore, there had become a need to insert Latin letters into the license plate to increase the number of possible combinations. This was first done in the bigger cities with only one prefix. Nanjing, for example, began the change with only the first number, which increased the number of possible combinations to 340,000 (with the exceptions of O & I, which cannot be printed without confusion with the numbers 0 & 1). Further changes allowed the first two places, or the second place alone on the plate to be letters, allowing 792,000 more combinations mathematically. More recently, cities have taken to having the third letter alone being a Latin letter, the rest numbers. The numbers are produced at random, and are computer-generated at the issuing office. Numbers with a sequence of 6s, 8s, or 9s are usually considered to be lucky, therefore special sequences like "88888" or "86888" can be purchased. (A previous licence plate system, with a green background and the full name of the province in Chinese characters, actually had a sequential numbering order, and the numbering system was eventually beset with corruption.)

License plates have different formats that are issued to different vehicles:

Vehicle Type Example Coloring Issued to
Small/Compact Vehicles 沪F·9Q765 White-on-Blue Regular vehicles
Small/Compact Vehicles (New Energy) 京A·D12345/京A·F12345 Black lettering on Gradient green Regular EV vehicles
Large Vehicles 渝F·1033V (Front)

渝 · F

1033V (Rear)

Black-on-yellow Vehicles longer than 6m or certified to carry 20+ passengers
Large Vehicles (New Energy) 京A·12345D/京A·12345F Black lettering, yellow for the province code, green for the rest Large EV vehicles
Agricultural/Municipal vehicles (i.e. forbidden to leave city territory) 皖 · 01

NR995

White-on-green Mainly agricultural vehicles. Vehicles operating in transport hubs (e.g. airports, ports) receive the "民航"(civil aviation) (for operation in airports) or "X港" (port X) (for operation in seaports, where X is the name of the port) instead of the Chinese character and the first pair of digits.
Coach cars 京A·0001学 Black-on-yellow Cars belonging to driving schools
Test car 京A·0001试 Black-on-yellow
Temporary license (intra-province) 沪K·9PW50 Black on patterned light blue (paper) Cars eligible for on-road driving but have not received a license plate yet
Temporary license (cross-province) 鲁A·40000 Black on patterned brown (paper)
Prototypes 沪A·1234超 Black on patterned light blue (paper)
Foreigner-owned (Discontinued) 京A·10000 White-on-Black Cars belonging to foreigners, joint-stock companies, foreign companies and diplomatic staff.
Small Motorcycles (50cc or below) 54321 (Front)

沪 · C

54321 (Rear)

White-on-Blue
Large Motorcycles (Above 50cc) Same as above Black-on-yellow

Since October 2007, black plates are no longer issued for vehicles belonging to foreigners, as this was "deemed discriminatory" and instead standard looking blue plates are now issued. However, foreigners still are issued a separate dedicated letter/number sequence to denote that they are a foreign owned/registered vehicle—e.g. in Beijing, the foreign owned plates are in the 京A·#####, 京L·B####, and 京L·C#### sequence. The older black plates are still issued to those who are dual-use vehicles, i.e. those registered in both Mainland China and Hong Kong or Macau.

Police Service, Armed Police Force, and Military[edit]

Licence plates for China's Police Service, Armed Police Force, and Military are in a white background, with red and black text.

Police Service plates have a designated format of X·LLNNN (X is the geographical abbreviation, N is a digit, and L is either a digit or a letter; "" means police and is coloured red, but the separator dot is no longer a circle, rather, a square). These plates are issued to traffic police, some patrol vehicles, court, and procuratorate vehicles.

Sample of current type of CAPF plates

Chinese People's Armed Police Force ("武警") uses the pinyin wujing abbreviation WJ and use the format WJNN-NNNNN.

The first two small letters behind the WJ are area prefixes:

  • WJ01-NNNNN. = Headquarters
  • WJ31-NNNNN. = Beijing
  • WJ14-NNNNN. = Shandong
  • WJ21-NNNNN. = Hainan

The Alphabet Numeral behind the area prefix shows the section of the Armed police:

  • WJ01-JNNNN. = Official Guards, Official and Diplomatic Escorts, Riot Police.
  • WJ01-BNNNN. = Border Police
  • WJ01-XNNNN. = Firefighter (Fire Department)
  • WJ01-1NNNN. = Headquarters

Another pattern is the WJ P NNNNL pattern, where P is the provincial code, and L denotes the first letter in "pinyin" of the branch of Armed Police service. e.g. WJ 沪 1234X = a vehicle for firefighting use in Shanghai

Military vehicles previously had plates using a code of heavenly stems in red. After reorganization in 2004, again in 2013 military vehicles now use a more organized prefix. These licence plates use the format XL·NNNNN (X is a prefix, L is a letter).


The People's Liberation Army vehicle prefixes 2013:

Military vehicles can be identified by having a red letter from the alphabet *V

  • V PLA Central Military Commission
  • K PLA Air Force
  • H PLA Navy
  • B PLA Beijing Military
  • VA PLA Central Military Commission
  • VB PLA Political Works
  • VC PLA Logistical Support
  • VD PLA Equipment Development

The People's Liberation Army vehicle prefixes 2004:

  • "" (Jūn; "Military")

Vehicles of the Central Military Commission
Vehicles of the Headquarters of People's Liberation Army
Vehicles of the PLA's units at Army-Grade or above. Deputy-Military-Region-Grade, Military-Region-Grade.

The Ground Force of PLA vehicle of the various military regions have their own prefixes:

The Navy of PLA vehicle prefixes:

  • "" (Haǐ)

The Air Force of PLA vehicle prefixes:

  • "" (Kōng)

Vehicles with government or military plates are not subject to the Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国道路交通安全法); they may run red lights, drive in the wrong direction or weave in and out of traffic.[2] Communist party officials and People's Liberation Army members are also exempt from paying road tolls and adhering to parking regulations.[3][4] According to Xinhua News Agency, "police officers are also reluctant to pull over drivers of military vehicles even if the drivers are breaking the law",[4][5] which is the reason behind an emerging trend in which individuals purchase counterfeit military registration plates to avoid being pulled over by police. Xinhua News Agency reported in 2008 that since July 2006, the government has confiscated over 4,000 fake military vehicles and 6,300 fake plates and has apprehended over 5,000 people belonging to criminal gangs; under Chinese law, those caught driving under fake registration plates are fined up to 2,000 RMB, and counterfeiters can be jailed for up to three years.[4][6]

Motorcycles[edit]

Motorcycle licence plates are nearly the same as that for ordinary vehicles, but are less in length and look more like an elongated square than a banner-like rectangle. There are two lines of text (province code and letter on the top, numbers on the bottom).

For qingqi or low-powered motorbikes, blue licence plates are issued throughout.

Embassies and consulates[edit]

Chinese diplomatic license plate. The first code is the character: 使 (shǐ, literally "diplomatic"), representing the embassy. The code 132 represents the Czech Republic, but it may not be due to Beijing having codes unreleased due to privacy reasons.

Embassy and consulate vehicles have their own licence plate with a red character and six white numbers. Embassy plates have a black background (following the foreigner plate standard, as previously mentioned). Embassies use 使 (shǐ) (for 使馆, which means 'embassy') and are used only in Beijing. Consulates use (lǐng) (for 领事馆, which means 'consulate') and are used for representations outside Beijing. Numbers on embassy plates are formatted so that the first three digits represent the foreign entity/organization the vehicle is registered to while the last three digits are sequential, where 001 is (generally) the Ambassador's car, for example: 使 224 001 is the car used by the Ambassador of the United States. Numbers 002 to 005 are usually reserved for official use and therefore have the comfort of the highest levels of diplomatic immunity.

In order to protect the privacy of foreign diplomats in the P.R. China, Beijing does not release information on embassies' vehicles, so it is possible that some data in the list of plate prefixes of embassies in Beijing below may not be correct.

Other types[edit]

Vehicles for use in automobile tests, vehicles for use in driving schools (examination and test-driving), and vehicles at airports all have their own separate licence plates.

For automobile tests, licence plates consist of black characters on a yellow background with the suffix shi (试 short in Chinese for ce shi or test). For driving schools, different plates apply for test-drive vehicles (jiaolian che) and examination vehicles (kaoshi che).

Airports have licence plates with white characters on a green background with the designation min hang (民航 Civilian Air Transportation). This shade of green is slightly lighter than the variant used on normal licence plates prior to 1992.

Cross-border with Hong Kong and Macau[edit]

Guangdong border crossing plate displayed on a vehicle below a standard Hong Kong plate.

Licence plates with a black background and the character 港 or 澳 in place of the last number are used for Hong Kong and Macau vehicles, respectively, when they engage in cross-border traffic to and from Mainland China. These plates often exist side by side with a local HK or Macau licence plate on the same car. See the section on Guangdong license plates.

Interim licence plates[edit]

Front of Interim licence plate (drive in an administrative area only)
Back of Interim licence plate (drive in an administrative area only)
Front of Interim licence plate (drive outside of an administrative area only)
Back of Interim licence plate (drive outside of an administrative area only)

Interim licence plates are a piece of paper to be affixed to the front of the vehicle's window, usually valid for 15 days.

Shortlived 2002 standard[edit]

Example of the 2002-standard plate.

For a short while in the summer of 2002, a new 2002 standard was instituted in several cities, including Beijing. They enabled number/alphabetical customisation. (The possible combinations were NNN-NNN, NNN-LLL and LLL-NNN, where N would be a number and L a letter. However, although the usage of "CHN", to designate China, was not permitted in the plates, that restriction, oddly enough, did not apply to the letters "PRC".) The VIN was also added to the new plates, and the plates were white, with a gradual blue tint at the bottom end of the plates. Black letters were used on the plate.

In late August 2002 new 2002 standard plates had their issuance temporarily interrupted, officially for technical reasons, but actually because some number/alphabetical combinations of a controversial nature in Mainland China were utilised. One of the biggest controversies was when a vehicle with plate number USA-911 was spotted in Beijing, causing an uproar as it was taken to be a reference to the September 11 attacks, and as such was criticized as being disrespectful to Americans. Equal uproars were created with such plates as PRC-001, and trademark violations were rife; the plate number IBM-001 was seen. The WTO acronym was also spotted in the plates. In a society that is still rather conservative in this topic, the plate SEX-001 was the source of yet another controversy. The number 250, an insult in spoken Chinese, was also spotted in some plates.

Possibly due to the controversies as described above, as of summer 2003, the new plates are no longer being issued. Old plates of the 2002 standard are not being recalled. Cars who have lost their 2002-standard plates are disallowed to get a 2002-standard replacement. The 1992-standard plates will be issued instead.

New 2007 Standard (GA36-2007)[edit]

The Ministry of Public Security has announced on October 30, 2007, that the 1992 vehicle license plate system will be overhauled on November 1, 2007.

Major Points of interest:

  • The current black license plates assigned to foreign-owned vehicles will be phased out. New vehicles will be issued "normal" blue license plates.
  • Two roman letters (not including O, or I, which could be confused with numerals) may be included among the last five places of the plate number.

A minor difference between the 2007- and the 1992-standard plates is that the separator dot between the regional code and the serial on 2007-standard plates is embossed along the characters, while that on 1992-standard plates are pressed into the plate, in the opposite direction of the characters.

Number plates issued in the 1992 standard will not be recalled but black plates will no longer be issued. Neither will plates issued to embassies be affected.

It is believed this is a China-wide standard. Many provinces and municipal cities have since introduced personalized number plates with different limitations. It is generally possible to choose from several alphabetical-numerical combination and personalize some of the digits.

For some provinces it is possible to have a letter occupying the last place of the combination, possibly to increase combination numbers.

Official Beijing Traffic Bureau announcement (Chinese)

New Energy vehicles license plates[edit]

Small New Energy vehicle license plate
Large New Energy vehicle license plate

On November 21, 2016, the MPS announced the New Energy vehicles license plates are introduced. They will instituted in Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuxi, Jinan, and Shenzhen since December 1, 2016. The New Energy vehicles license plates consist of the one-character provincial abbreviation, a letter of the alphabet, and six numbers or letters of the alphabet, which "D" means Electric car, "F" means other types of New Energy vehicles. For Small New Energy vehicle license plate, this alphabet is located in the first, and Large New Energy vehicles is located in the last.

There is also an "E" logo, which means "Electric".[7]

New Energy Vehicle License Plates will be instituted in 10 more cities, i.e. Baoding, Changchun, Fuzhou, Qingdao, Zhengzhou, Zhongshan, Liuzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu and Kunming.

List of prefixes[edit]

The following lists all licence plate prefixes in use in the People's Republic of China, divided into four sections: municipalities, provinces, autonomous regions and others.

This list might not be up to date, complete or accurate. Please amend as you see fit.

Municipalities[edit]

Beijing[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Beijing is: (Pinyin: Jīng)

  • 京A(Color in Yellow)-buses
  • 京C, 京E, 京F, 京H, 京J, 京K, 京L, 京M, 京P, 京Q - Urban area
  • 京B - Taxis
  • 京G - Suburbs
  • 京N, 京P, 京Y - Suburbs and urban area
  • 京A, 京LB, 京LC - foreigner or foreign company owned vehicle
  • 京O·A - Ministry of Public Security
  • 京V - Central Guard Bureau of Beijing Garrison Military License

Chongqing[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Chongqing is: (Yú)

Shanghai[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Shanghai is: (Hù)

  • 沪A, 沪B, 沪D, 沪E, 沪F, 沪G, 沪H, 沪J, 沪K, 沪L, 沪M, 沪N — Urban area and suburbs.
  • 沪C — Suburbs, not allowed to enter the urban area(i.e. not allowed to travel within the Outer Ring).
  • 沪RChongming Island, Changxing Island, Hengsha Island, not allowed to leave the places above.

For the third character of the license plates (with 4 digits following):

  • Z — New energy vehicles (except licenses begin with 沪A and 沪C).
  • M, N, U to X — Taxis.
  • Y — Vehicles for rent, owned by car renting operators.

Tianjin[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Tianjin is: (Jīn)

  • 津A, 津B, 津C, 津F, 津G, 津H, 津I, 津J, 津K, 津L, 津M, 津N, 津P, 津Q, 津R — General Issues
  • 津E — Taxis

Provinces[edit]

Anhui[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Anhui is: (Wǎn)

Fujian[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Fujian is: (Mǐn)

Gansu[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Gansu is: (Gān)

Guangdong[edit]

Black PRC licence plates of the 1992 standard for vehicles from Hong Kong that are allowed to cross into Mainland China.

The initial character on licence plates issued in Guangdong is: (Yuè)

Guizhou[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Guizhou is: (Guì)

Hainan[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Hainan is: (Qióng)

Hebei[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Hebei is: (Jì)

Heilongjiang[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Heilongjiang is: (Hēi)

Henan[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Henan is: (Yù)

Hubei[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Hubei is: (È)

Hunan[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Hunan is: (Xiāng)

Jiangsu[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Jiangsu is: (Sū)

Jiangxi[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Jiangxi is: (Gàn)

Jilin[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Jilin is: (Jí)

Liaoning[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Liaoning is: (Liáo)

Qinghai[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Qinghai is: (Qīng)

Shaanxi[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Shaanxi is: (Shǎn)

Shandong[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Shandong is: (Lǔ)

Shanxi[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Shanxi is: (Jìn)

Sichuan[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Sichuan is: (Chuān)

Yunnan[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Yunnan is: (Yún)

Zhejiang[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Zhejiang is: (Zhè)

Autonomous regions[edit]

Guangxi[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Guangxi is: (Guì)

Inner Mongolia[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Inner Mongolia is: (Měng)

Ningxia[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Ningxia is: (Níng)

Tibet[edit]

Initial character of licence plates used in Tibet is: (Zàng)

Xinjiang[edit]

The initial character on licence plates issued in Xinjiang is: (Xīn)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "How Many Cars are There in China?". ChinaAutoWeb.com. 
  2. ^ Fauna, 1 December 2009, Caught: Fake Chinese Military Vehicle License Plates, ChinaSMACK
  3. ^ Wu Zhong, 21 November 2007, Drivers with a license to kill in China, Asia Times
  4. ^ a b c 12 April 2008, Bogus Military Vehicles And Plates Seized, Sky News
  5. ^ 2008-04-11, Military Cracks Down on Fake License Plates, Xinhua
  6. ^ 16 June 2009, Chinese army, police seize thousands of fake military license plates, IDs, People's Daily
  7. ^ "新能源汽车专用号牌将在5城市试点启用". Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China. 2016-11-21. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 

External links[edit]

  • Scanned images of GA36-2007 (License plate of motor vehicle of China)